The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is refusing to say why its secretary of state does not appear to have signed up to her own flagship disability employment scheme.
Disability News Service (DNS) revealed last week that a DWP database suggested that Therese Coffey had not joined her department’s Disability Confident programme.
The discredited scheme aims to encourage employers to “think differently about disability and take action to improve how they recruit, retain and develop disabled people”.
But Coffey’s name does not appear on DWP’s list of employers who have joined Disability Confident, even though – like all MPs – she employs staff to assist with her parliamentary duties.
Other notable absentees from the list include Sir Iain Duncan Smith, who launched the scheme himself in 2013 when he was work and pensions secretary, as well as former secretaries of state Esther McVey – who claims she devised the Disability Confident scheme – David Gauke and Amber Rudd, and the current minister for welfare delivery, Will Quince.
Gauke and Rudd are no longer MPs, but Coffey (pictured), McVey and Duncan Smith have so far failed to answer questions about their apparent refusal to sign up to Disability Confident.
A spokesperson for Quince said: “Thank you for contacting Will Quince MP and phoning our office with regards to the below enquiry.
“I would like to politely suggest you contact the Department for Work and Pensions press office about your aforementioned query.
“Thank you again for taking the time to contact us.”
DNS asked DWP last Friday (6 March) why Coffey, Duncan Smith, Quince, Gauke, Rudd and McVey did not appear on the list, when nearly 70 other MPs were members of the scheme.
A DWP spokesperson waited until 6.13pm last night (Wednesday) before producing a one-sentence statement that did not answer that question*.
Disability Confident has been heavily-criticised since its introduction in 2013.
Figures secured last year by DNS through a freedom of information request showed that the 13,600 employers that had signed up to the scheme by 13 September 2019 had pledged to provide just 8,763 paid jobs for disabled people between them, an average of just 0.64 jobs per employer.
Members of the scheme include many large employers such as local authorities, government departments, manufacturers, national charities, banks and retailers, including the big four supermarkets, more than 100 NHS trusts, and high street banks.
Three years ago, DWP declared itself a gold-standard employer of disabled people under the scheme – securing the status of “Disability Confident Leader” – just days before being found guilty of “grave and systematic violations” of the UN disability convention.
This week, a BBC Panorama investigation revealed that DWP lost more disability discrimination cases at employment tribunal than other employer in Britain in the three years since 2016 (see separate story).
*The DWP spokesperson said: “Levelling up the playing field for disabled people in all spheres of life is a priority for this Government, and we’ll be driving forward this agenda through a national strategy which we’ll publish later this year.”
A note from the editor:
Please consider making a voluntary financial contribution to support the work of DNS and allow it to continue producing independent, carefully-researched news stories that focus on the lives and rights of disabled people and their user-led organisations.
Please do not contribute if you cannot afford to do so, and please note that DNS is not a charity. It is run and owned by disabled journalist John Pring and has been from its launch in April 2009.
Thank you for anything you can do to support the work of DNS…